This Tops Every Other Fidelio...and Maybe Every Other Opera
Ralph J. Steinberg | New York, NY United States | 02/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I once rated the live Klemperer "Fidelio" on Testament as the best recording of the work, surpassing his EMI studio performance. Well, here is the only one that can surpass it! Although the Klemperer scores with Hotter as Pizarro and Dobson and Morisson as Jaquino and Marzelline, the corresponding cast members in the Furtwangler (Schoeffler, Dermota and Schwarzkopf) are very close in quality and I would be happy with either set of characters. Both Frick (Klemperer) and Greindl (Furtwangler) are equally great in portraying a Rocco with warmth, humor, a basically decent man caught in a web woven by his despotic superior. But when it comes to Florestan, although Vickers (Klemperer) has the vocal advantage, he sometimes sweetens the music by crooning and thereby sentimentalizes the role; Patzak (Furtwangler) never resorts to this and remains a stoically heroic figure throughout; his aria "In des Leben Fruhlingstagen" simpy has to be the most moving ever, reaching an unprescedented level of ecstacy in the concluding passages. Jurinac (Klemperer) is a lovely, feminine, yet dramatic Leonore, a light-voiced dramatic soprano. BUT, THERE IS FLAGSTAD! (Furtwangler). Although past her prime, she gives her most committed performance as Leonore, which she herself regarded as her favorite role, and it really sounds it! I have never heard any soprano sing this role with the kind of intensity and warmth that Flagstad brings to it; this is her greatest performance.
BUT ABOVE ALL, THERE IS FURTWANGLER!
Comparing the two conductors, one reader stated that if Klemperer was granite, then Furtwangler was fire. Klemperer gives what is probably his most intense opera performance in his set, but as another readrer said, if there was one conductor who could surpass Klemperer in Beethoven, it was Furtwangler. For most of Act 1, both conductors are on a par with each other. But Act 2 belongs to Furtwangler: He fashions an absolutely incendiary performance, particularly in the dramatic encounter "Er sterbe!", in the most thrilling and emotionally exhausting "Leonore No. 3", and perhaps above all, the stormy concluding choral symphony, "Wer ein holdes Weib errungen."
Opus Kura has done it again with the best-sounding transfer; the EMI is thin and lifeless-sounding. One caveat: All issues play a semitone low; I wonder if this is a fault of the master tape, and yet the timbre of the voices sounds natural; I wonder if Furtwangler pitched the performance lower so as to avoid undue strain on Flagstad? Does anyone know about the practice of altering pitch for given performances?
But, outside of this, this is the "Fidelio" for eternity. It is performances like this that convince one that far from being a magnificent failure, this is the greatest opera ever written. If you love Beethoven, get this recording and prepare for the emotional assault of all time (well, Furtwangler's other Beethoven renditions will do this also)."